It was early March of 1991 and the war had just ended only days before. I think that when we first heard that it was over we all had visions of going home. Home for us was back to Germany and to our families. There was a euphoria that hit and we carried it around for several days but eventually it gave way to a more bitter reality…that we weren’t going to simply pack up and go home. These were still the days of snail mail and pay phones and in the middle of the desert in the wake of a war, there wasn’t much of either. The prospect of possibly two or three more months deployed with little or no communication was pretty frightening for all of us. For me, it was especially hard knowing that I wouldn’t be there when the last of my three children was born and even more difficult was the fact that it might be a week or more before I would even know if the baby was born or if everything was ok. I tried not to think about it but it is not something you just toss away and forget.
I remember the Platoon Sergeant telling me that no one would be able to go back early but that there was some sort of auxiliary radio system called a MARS station based somewhere out in the desert. He said that they were going to try to get me there so I could at least let call home and let my wife know that I was ok and that I wouldn’t be able to be there when the baby came. Sure enough, the vehicle came by the Company area and picked me up. It turned out that I wasn’t the only expectant father in the Battalion. It took us over an hour, maybe more to get to the MARS station, which was nothing more than a small jeep in the middle of nowhere with a pelican case on the back and radio. They connected me to my home number in Germany and my wife answered. She sounded like a robot but we were able to talk for couple of minutes and I told her to have someone contact the Red Cross when the baby came and I might find out a little quicker. It hit me the hardest when we left and it was a long ride back to the Company area.
When I arrived, everyone had already started laying out their equipment for an inventory. As I headed to my platoon area to get my own equipment sorted out, the Platoon Sergeant intercepted me and told me I had five minutes to grab everything I could and get over to the CP. A vehicle was coming by to pick me up…I was going home on the Freedom Bird. To this day I don’t know how everything changed so quickly but I do credit the leadership of the Company with making me a priority when an opportunity presented itself so that I could be there for the birth of my child. I know that’s what the platoon wanted for me too.
There was plenty of fan-fare on the chartered flight going home…it was dubbed the Freedom Bird because it was reported to be the first plane of 1st Armored Division soldiers returning to Germany from Desert Storm. Most were like me and had been selected to go back early for various reasons. It took several days to get back to Germany and upon arrival at Nurnberg we deplaned and boarded several chartered busses, each headed for a different Caserne. Ours was headed to Bamberg and as we rolled through the gate we were all blown away by the incredible homecoming. There were members of the press and people everywhere with signs, balloons and confetti. It was an incredible event.
I walked around for several minutes looking for my family but they had not yet arrived. I walked through the crowd to the Battalion area and waited for more than half an hour, waiting and watching the happy reunions. I couldn’t believe I was there and even felt guilt as I watch children hugging their fathers and husbands holding their wives. My brothers were still in the desert and I was here at home. I felt dazed, almost as though I was a tunnel. I couldn’t hear anything but I watched what seemed like a chaos unwinding all around me. Thirty minutes in that kind of chaos is too much time to think.
And then it was quiet and I had the odd sense of someone approaching me from behind. I turned around to see a little girl standing there looking up at me. She had hair. She didn’t have hair when I left nor was she walking. All of the emotion welled up at once and it was hard for me to control it, but the guilt went away and I knew that my brothers wanted me to be here. My little girl was about to have a little sister and I was going to be there.
During the entire ordeal of redeployment, I kept thinking that it was taking so long to get back that I might not make it in time. Nothing was further from the truth. While the Darville girls were demonstrating a propensity for lateness, this new kid carried it to another level. She was not planning to come into the world on anyone’s terms but her own (This would define her to this day.) As we approached full term we were at the doctor’s office every day and we were told each time to “come back tomorrow”. It became so routine that the frustration eventually subsided and we just went in each day expecting to be told the same thing. It was our daily ride. One day they told us that “tomorrow” was going to be a birthday only to be told on arrival “tomorrow” to “come back tomorrow”. Finally the doctor decided that if she did not want to come naturally it would probably be better to take her cesarean, so we made an appointment….for “tomorrow”.
The next morning we walked in to the Bamberg Klinikum and they took my wife back to prepare her for the procedure. It appeared at that point that we had finally successfully planned a birthday. I sat down in the waiting area and opened a newspaper. It was German newspaper and my German reading skills were a little weak. It seemed as though I had been there only minutes (I hadn’t even finished the comics) when a nurse came out and asked me if I wanted to come see my daughter. I’m sure she wondered why I sat there for a few moments stone faced as though I didn’t believe her, but I honestly thought it would take a bit longer than a few minutes considering all the cutting, pulling and sewing that had to happen. It took me a half hour to sew a one inch hole in my sock so I’m thinking they got the wrong guy.
As we walked through the corridor I could hear babies screaming and I thought how lucky I was to have quiet babies. I mean, the last time I did this, we didn’t hear a peep so naturally I assumed all of my babies would be the silent variety. The nurse kept turning around smiling and I sort of grinned too thinking about how long those nights were going to be for the Mommies and Daddies of those screamers! It was then that I realized that it wasn’t “babies” screaming but rather, a baby and that the further we walked the louder it became.
And suddenly, the corridor ended and there we were all together…the baby in the bassinet screaming at the top of her obviously powerful lungs, and Mommy in the bed, looking very much like a zombie. The nurse handed her to me and she never missed a note. I ask my wife if she wanted to hold her and she very quickly told me no. She just wanted to sleep and to please go. ..and take the baby with me! I figured she must be in a lot of pain and I’m sure all of the screaming wasn’t helping. As much as my own head hurt, I felt good. I was happy! This was MY daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Darville, and she was already stirring up trouble…a real chip off the old block, I thought.
The nurse asked me to follow her and as I carried my daughter back through the long corridor, she stopped crying. We walked into another room where there were several others standing around and I carefully handed her to our nurse. She laid Sarah on the table and examined her. She was so beautiful…and thankfully, quiet. As I admired my little cub I noticed the nurse preparing a syringe. I asked her what it was and she told me it was a Vitamin K shot. I missed that part in the new baby handbook and before I had an opportunity to object, the nurse stuck the needle right into the little cubs’ foot to which she let out a roar that cleared the room! So much for peace and quiet! I’m not sure if she quit screaming before I sneaked one of her mother’s sedatives but I do know that she made quite an impression on everyone at that Hospital.
And so now, looking back 23 years, I think it was a miracle that I could even be there when she was born. To then be reminded so pointedly to not let my guilt of having left my unit ruin the time that they had afforded me with my family was truly extraordinary and allowed me to connect with Sarah in the same way I was able to connect with her sisters. It is fun to remember how vocal she was as an infant (and as a toddler, small child, teenager and politically active college student), but what I will remember most about her from the first day of her life to now is her strength. She was and continues to be the one of the three that is most like me. In some ways that scares me (and probably her too), but in truth, I am very proud of her. She is a fighter, a thinker, a diplomat and a leader….she is a lion. I don’t think she realizes it yet but despite all of the challenges she has faced and continues to face, she is exhibiting signs of greatness. She knows, like I do, that God has a plan for her life and that everything that comes her way is preparing her.
“He gives to me the lions strength though I am but a lamb…I give to him my heart and soul, because he is, I am.”